As I sat there on the aeroplane taking me on my mournful journey home, soaking yet another handkerchief, I couldn’t help but remember our last conversation.
It had all started quite sedately; we had already discussed how my university studies in England were going and who my favourite professor was. We had highlighted the problems with the economy today and how, if we were in charge as we should have been, the country would not be having the troubles it was experiencing now. My father and I always thought we could do better than everyone else, constantly striving for perfection. Then he asked, I remember his words exactly: “So what of the ‘bobos’?”.
“Bobos ke? Dad, I don’t time for them, anyway as you said, my books are my boyfriends!” I said, laughing. My father laughed too.
“Hmmmnn, Fum’ Fum’, tell your old father the truth I know there is someone.”
“Okay, okay his name is Tim.”
“Tim? So he is white?”
“The last time I checked, yes he was,” I said with a smile.
“Okay but this one is just a passing phase, you know you must come back and marry someone from home.”
“Oh so you have found me a husband here?” I said still smiling.
“You remember my friend Mr Dolapo? That his son, Toyin, is a very nice boy. He has got himself a job at a management consultancy firm on the island,” my father responded, suddenly looking quite serious.
“That’s good for him…where are you going with this dad?” I asked, no longer smiling.
“Well the two of you used to play together when you were little and I think now that you are older and have seen the world you would make a very good match.”
“Toyin Dolapo and me? A good match? Dad, he used to lick the mucus from his nose and then try to kiss me!” I began to laugh, “Dad, please don’t joke like that! I can just see the wedding day; me following him around with a tissue in case he got the urge to slurp!” I was shaking with laughter but stopped when I realised that my father was not sharing in my mirth.
“Dad you weren’t being serious were you?”
“And if I am?” he said not quite catching my eyes.
Suddenly I could feel my indignation rising, “I don’t think so! Of all the men in this country I would put Toyin Dolapo at the bottom of the list,” I stated defiantly.
“Well I recommend re-locating him to the top because he’s the one you’re going to marry!”
“Hey! What is this I’m hearing? Dad this isn’t the nineteenth century! You can’t choose my husband for me!”
“It looks like I just have and you had better warm to the idea very quickly because his father is taking us out to dinner tonight!”
The whole thing was such a sudden turnaround that I sat there for a short while waiting for him to say: “Fum’ Fum’ I see schooling in England has finally robbed you of the last shred of your humour,” but he did not.
Instead he said, “Wear one of those lace outfits your mother just got for you,” and then he left the room. I was stunned.
I went to find Auntie Molara. My father always referred to her as my mother but my own mother actually died when I was three. Auntie Molara had been my mother’s best friend and she and my father got married five years after her death. No one suspected foul play because their marriage seemed to be more like a contracted companionship; their joint grief brought them together and they became best friends. My uncle on my father’s side told me there was never the intensity of passion my father felt for my mother between them.
I found her in the dining room going over Lolade, my half-sister’s homework with her. “Manty have you heard anything about this madness?” Manty had always been my name for her.
“Which new madness would that be?” she asked, looking up from the exercise book, Lolade looked up too with a shy smile.
“Dad with his matchmaker man impersonation, is he teasing me?”
“Matchmaker man? Aah, Toyin Dolapo…”
“You knew? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me,” I was unable to hide the feeling of being betrayed in my voice.
“Funmi, you know I would have spoken to you about it if your father had not insisted on broaching the subject with you personally.”
“You mean he was serious? Seriously serious?”
Yes my father had been serious and I had caught the next available flight back to England, not caring about the dinner with the Dolapos or anything else for that matter. I was far too incensed about what my father had in store for me. Who did he think he was expecting that he could make such an important, life-changing decision on my behalf and I’d just go along with it?
He e-mailed me constantly as I wouldn’t take his phone calls. At first he pleaded with me to see sense, accept the situation and return home the next holiday so that I could actually meet Toyin. Then, when that approach did not have the desired response, he wrote, threatening to come to England and drag me back forcibly to Nigeria so that I would meet him. After a while he stopped threatening, he would just send e-mails ending with the two words; “Please reconsider”.
I began to feel ungrateful but still righteous. My father could not force me to marry some snotty guy that I did not really know. I would make my own choices as far as that was concerned.
And now my self-righteousness has meant that I did not get to say goodbye to him.
Auntie Molara came to pick me up from Murtala Airport. I was quite surprised as normally the driver, Sunday, would have picked me up. She began to cry as soon as she saw me, I did too and she was a teary blur as I embraced her.
“You came by yourself?” I asked her.
She nodded, salty droplets falling onto her Ankara blouse.
When we went out to the car park I scanned it for the navy Mercedes she normally used.
“Where did you park?” I asked.
She pointed at an old Honda, “Over there,” she said.
I was a little confused, “Whose car is that?”
“I borrowed it so that I could pick you up,” Aunty Molara explained.
“Borrowed it?” Suddenly I felt hot and it was not just because of the Lagos sunshine that was blazing down.
“Manty what happened?” I asked fearing the answer.
“Get in the car, I’ll explain on the drive home,” she said.
As Manty drove she told me of how my father’s junior partners in his firm had conspired in secret to buy him out and oust him from his own company that he began with my mother twenty-nine years ago. All his so-called friends had turned their backs on him except the Dolapos’ and the Martins’.
The Dolapos were an immensely wealthy family; Mr Dolapo and my dad had known each other since school and were best friends. He had rallied around trying to help my father re-set up but with my absence he had lost his strong will and determination.
As Manty told me all this I began to cry anew.
It was my fault then that dad could not pick up his business again. My pride had got in the way of my sense. Every time he told me to reconsider and I had not. Stubborn! Foolish! I shook my head and was inconsolable.
When we got home Lolade ran out of the house and hugged me, crying. Thank God the home was our own property.
“I’m so sorry,” I repeated to her over and over again.
I could not sleep on the eve of the funeral. I just could not bear the thought that my father, who had always been the strongest, the one who had remained with me, was now gone too. I felt incredibly alone in the world. Manty had also told me that Toyin would be there at the funeral. She urged me to be friendly as a successful marriage to him would secure our future. At first I could not believe that she was bringing that up again. It was the reason I left in the first place but then she also explained that it was what dad would have wanted at the very least. I could not argue with her. I was determined to do his will in this very thing that caused him to lose it.
After everyone left the cemetery I stood there by myself looking at the mound of soil that had been placed over my father. I wanted to cry but was no longer capable; I had used up the very last reserves of tears that I had. Suddenly I felt someone approaching; it was probably one of the cemetery workers needing me to leave so he could carry on with his work. I looked up and into a face that was hidden by the Sun shining behind it.
“I’m sorry,” I stammered, “I’m leaving now…”
“Not on my account I hope,” said a deep gentle voice.
The person moved so I could see his face. I did not know him but I soon realised I was staring at him with my mouth open. What a sight I must have been; red-eyed and puffy with my mouth hanging open like a dolt. He was very handsome, everything on his face was annoyingly in proportion, he smiled at me and my stomach did funny things.
“How did you know my father?” I asked him.
“He was a very good friend of mine, something of a mentor you might say,” he continued, “you must be Funmilayo, he spoke of you a lot.”
As he talked he seemed to steer me towards the car park.
“Your father was a very good man; he was noble and in business always acted honourably unlike his partners.”
“You knew about that?” I asked him, alarmed.
I did not let him finish, “Did you work for my father?” my hackles were rising.
“Well no I…”
“So how do you know?” I shot at him.
“Was his betrayal common knowledge?” I interjected.
“No but I…”
“If you’ll just excuse me!” I said walking quickly to the black Mercedes that had brought us here.
Manty had arranged everything for the funeral; I do not how or where she got the money from. The family’s financial situation was precarious. My father had sold off many assets as a means of keeping me in university, yet she had managed to organise a very respectable send-off for the man. I hugged her as soon as I got into the car.
“Well done,” she said to me.
I was not sure what for but I nodded my head anyway.
The funeral party was held at a member’s only club in Ikeja but I could not work out how Manty had booked the venue as she was certainly not a member and neither had my father been. When I asked her she told me not to worry. I wondered who her secret benefactor could be.
I had to go around greeting everybody with Manty. I said hello to the Martins’. Mrs Martin embraced me and told me to be strong. Mr Martin was recalling stories about my father and when he was chasing my mother. When I approached to greet him he took me by the hand and remarked on how much I resembled her but had my father’s mannerisms.
“They will both live on in you,” he said.
I nodded slowly, feeling ready to cry again and then someone caught my eye; it was the man from the cemetery. He was watching me and gave an encouraging smile. I took a deep breath and smiled. I carried on walking around with Manty, catching his eye at intervals, for some reason every time he smiled at me I felt more able to carry on.
We went to greet the Dolapos’, thank goodness Toyin had not come, I could not have pretended to be interested in him especially in front of that other man. Mrs Dolapo stroked my cheek and told me that time was a great healer. Once again I nodded, being too emotionally drained to do anything else.
Afterwards I went to find Lolade. As I was looking for her someone drew near me, it was him.
“You did very well,” he said, “you’re strong like your father.”
“I think that was the problem sometimes, we were both too alike and refused to bend for the other. That was why I stayed away for five years.” I explained.
“You both clashed over something?” he asked.
“Yes, he wanted to choose my husband for me,” I said.
He raised an eyebrow, “I can’t believe your father would do such a thing.”
“Well he did! You see that couple over there?” I said discreetly pointing at the Dolapos.
“Yes I do,” he said.
“My father wanted me to marry their son who, last time I saw him, was a snotty little boy who used to try and kiss me but would never let me play on his computer games. I think he was afraid I’d beat him.”
“Really?” he said.
I nodded then sighed.
“That was why you ran away? Because of a snotty little boy?” I think he was trying not to sound too incredulous.
“It all seems so frivolous now. I could at least have met him I suppose.”
“Yes and he may have learnt how to blow his nose by now.”
I couldn’t help myself as I laughed. It felt wrong to laugh at my father’s funeral but that was exactly the sort of thing he would have said.
“You have a lovely laugh,” he told me.
Fumilayo! Where have you been? Manty has been looking for you.” Lolade said as she approached us. “ I see you finally met Toyin,” she said with a sly smile.
“Toyin? He didn’t come! And I’m supposed to marry someone like that!” I said kissing my teeth.
“If he didn’t come why is he standing right next to you?” Lolade said, eyeing me quizically.
I turned in horror to look at the man I had been talking to, “Toyin?”
“Guilty as charged,” he said smiling at me sheepishly.
“I, I…I’m so…I’m so…” I stammered.
“So am I,” he said laughing, “Shall we go and sit down somewhere?”
I nodded. He took me by the hand and led me to a chair just as he took me by the arm and led me down the aisle on our wedding day a year and a half later.
I should have trusted my father because he was rarely wrong. He had read in Toyin the same qualities that he had within himself, minus the stubborn nature, and had known that was what I would look for in a man. He had been right but went wrong in his means of relaying the idea to me. He should have known I would resist anything heavy-handed. I am still trying to come to terms with the fact that I wasted all that time running away and caused him so much heartache.
I console myself with the notion that he no longer has to worry about me and is with my mother together somewhere. It’s funny because Manty consoles herself with the same thought. She is also very excited about grandchildren! As my parents live through me, I will live through them.
Photo Credit: http://thatwoman.files